When Will My Milk Come In?


Luka Zigic

We often hear the term “milk coming in” being used to describe the physical changes we notice in our breasts around day 3 or 4 following birth. This is a transitional period for your body. It is a transition in the way that your breasts respond to milk making and it comes with a jump in volume - this is why the change is so noticeable physically. It’s a big moment for your body and also for your baby. 

I don’t love this term and I find that it is so misleading to those who have never learned about milk production before… which happens to be the majority of us!

Based on my own experience, as well as many conversations had with expecting and new mamas, I’ve come to understand that while this term is very often used, it’s often misunderstood. The term “milk coming in” when used to describe those physical changes tends to imply that a mother doesn’t have milk in her breasts when her baby is born. This is completely false! Let’s do a brief dive into how milk production works to help you understand why your milk doesn’t “come in” at 3 days postpartum.

Milk production happens in three stages, those stages are called Lactogenesis one, two, & three. You begin to form milk in the form of colostrum (your baby’s first food) about halfway through your pregnancy, this is Lactogenesis 1. We see a transition to Lactogenesis 2 around day 3 or 4 usually following birth. During this time your colostrum begins transforming into the mature milk most of us are familiar with. The volume of milk in your breasts during the colostrum stage is quite low, upon the transition to mature milk, there is a subsequent increases to the volume of milk being produced, growing from tbs to oz. We call this “our milk coming in” due to the apparent physical change that are usually noticeable during L2. 

Our milk changes in appearance and content slightly during this time as well. Colostrum is yellow or even orange in colour, a little salty in flavour, and is sticky and syrupy/thick! Mature milk is more liquidy, white, and sweet. The contents of your milk are ever-changing and adapting to your baby’s needs. They change during a feed, through the day, from day to night. The milk is a little different every day of your child’s breastfeeding journey, your bodies communicate to allow you to make milk based on your child’s developmental/health needs

The first two stage of milk production are hormonally controlled and happen to almost every pregnant person, whether they intend to breastfeed or not. Lactogenesis 3 is the final stage of lactation, it happens around 2 weeks following the birth of your babe. At this stage of milk production, your milk supply is no longer controlled by your hormones but rather, output of milk. This means that for your body to maintain production of milk to your babes biological needs you must latch them frequently and responsively. If a nursing session is missed then we must ensure to maintain milk flow by either pumping or hand expressing. Doing this will send your body the signal that your baby still needs that milk, and to keep it up! Not doing it could negatively affect your supply for the following day. When we lower our supply our baby may respond by nursing more frequently/longer than usual nursing sessions & may be fussy. With milk stasis also comes an increased risk of developing clogs in your breasts milk ducts & even mastitis which can make us quite sick!

Many moms worry that they are not producing enough milk following birth during the colostrum stage of lactation or they are concerned that they don’t have milk in their breasts at all upon their babies arrival. We don't see milk leaking usually in those first days and baby seems to be never satisfied and nursing constantly. When we don't know that this is normal behaviour and that babies nurse pretty much around the clock in the first 3 months of their life, it can really perpetuate feelings of confusion and doubt! This idea that there isn't enough milk or that our body isn't producing milk is so scary for a new mom! while this is a valid concern, of course, understanding how milk production works allows us to be confident in our bodies ability to feed baby. Your milk does not require topping up during the colostrum stage and your body does not start making milk in the days following your birth. Your baby may seem like they're eating constantly, probably because they are, this doesn't mean that there is anything wrong - this is the biological norm! Nursing sessions are ofter short & very frequent, and sometimes even really long. When we honour our baby's communication with us and feed them responsively, our milk is able respond in volume accordingly. At the very start, during the colostrum stage and during babies first day's of life, their tummy is so small that they really only need table spoons of colostrum through the day. Their tummies can expend if we give them more than what is biologically necessary, but this is generally something we want to avoid. The WHO recommends only breastmilk until 6 months of age and if supplementation is necessary due to medical indication, we want to try to do this with our own breastmilk so as to protect baby's underdeveloped and sensitive tummy. As colostrum transitions to mature milk, your baby's tummy grows to accommodate this change in volume!

The same way your body was able to conceive, grow, and birth your baby, it is able to feed your baby without supplementation during the colostrum stage and beyond.

Your body is really amazing at adapting milk production to adjust to baby's needs in terms of volume and content. It’s so important to build and develop a trusting relationship with your body and learn as much as you can about physiological/natural child feeding. The less we interfere with the natural child feeding process, listen to our instincts, and respond to our baby’s signals, the smoother the journey usually is. 

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